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Serb nationalist Dodik wins Bosnia presidency seat

Milan Radulovic / AFP | Milorad Dodik, Bosnian-Serb candidate for Bosnia and Herzegovina's tripartite presidency arrives at the party headquarters in Banja Luka on October 7, 2018.
4 min

Nationalist Milorad Dodik claimed victory Sunday in the vote for the Serb seat of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, a post he will share with Muslim and Croat leaders in a country splintered by ethnic divisions.


The elevation of the hardliner to top office lays bare the nationalism haunting Bosnia more than two decades after it was torn apart by war.

Dodik, the longtime leader of Bosnia's Serb-majority entity Republika Srpska, has previously threatened to hold a vote on its secession -- a move that would unravel a delicate arrangement that has kept peace since the 1992-95 conflict.

Now the firebrand will represent a country he has referred to as a "failed concept" on the world stage.

"This victory is as clean as a whistle," Dodik announced from his base in Banja Luka, the capital of the Serb-run entity.

He said he had a 56 percent lead over his Serb rival, moderate Mladen Ivanic, with 85 percent of the ballots counted.

Ivanic's party has said the vote was too close to call.

"At this time it is too early to announce the results and we will wait for the report of our observers to see if everything has gone well," Ivanic said.

Meanwhile, the main Bosnian Muslim party SDA claimed a victory for its candidate Safik Dzaferovic in the three-person presidency.

And the Croat post went to Social Democrat Zeljko Komsic, a blow to the incumbent Dragan Covic from the nationalist right.

Bosnia's complex -- and some say disfunctional -- political system is a relic of the 1990s war that saw Serbs, Croats and Muslims turn on each other in brutal fashion.

The conflict left 100,000 dead, displaced millions and wrecked the economy and infrastructure.

The peace accord that stopped the fighting sliced the country in two halves -- one dominated by Serbs and the other home to Muslims and a Croat minority.

Each "entity" has its own government with a high level of autonomy. They are held together by a relatively weak national administration, headed by the tripartite presidency.

Divide and rule

As always ahead of elections, many politicians leaned into nationalist rhetoric to woo voters.

During the campaign Dodik repeated claims that Bosnia was "not a state" and that its capital Sarajevo was "foreign territory."

After casting a ballot in his hometown Laktasi, the Serb strongman said he would work with Bosnia's institutions "solely in the interst and benefit of Republika Srpska."

Dodik, who is vocally pro-Russian, was blacklisted by the United States last year for threatening Bosnia's integrity.

Among the population of 3.5 million, there is a pervasive sense of disillusionment with a political class accused of clinging to power by stoking nationalism instead of fixing economic woes.

Monthly wages average around 430 euros while around one fifth of the population is unemployed.

"No party meets my expectations as a citizen," said Danica Odovic, a 47-year-old bookseller outside a polling station in Banja Luka.

She added that she was voting only for "change... not because I think the others are better."


Experts say Bosnia's unwieldy political structure hampers progress on reforms and creates a space for graft to run wild.

According to Transparency International, corruption is a serious problem at "all levels of government".

In local 2016 elections, the watchdog reported a range of malpractice, including parties promising jobs in exchange for votes.

This culture of patronage is one factor driving high emigration in recent years, a trend that deepens the country's economic problems.

"Most young people see their future outside Bosnia," said Zoran Kresic, an analyst.

Hearing these "same stories, messages of war and of the impossibility of living together, demotivates people from staying", he added.

Voter turnout was estimated to be close to the 55 percent figure from 2014, according to the electoral commission, with no significant incidents reported.


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